More of the economy is opening up under stage 3 of the provincial plan, but the entertainment industry remains largely on hold. Theatre groups have been hit particularly hard, typically relying on live audiences to keep going.
Some, like community theatre groups in Elmira and Elora, have moved to online shows, but larger organizations such as Drayton Entertainment have been forced to shutter their buildings.
Having cancelled summertime shows in the spring, Drayton Entertainment had hoped to resume performances, but those hopes were dashed when the group last week cancelled the remainder of the 2020 season. Now, the goal is to get back on stage in 2021.
Going digital just wasn’t an option, says artistic director Alex Mustakas.
“First of all, you still have to produce the shows that you’re going to film, so it’s the same problem: You have to put actors on stage and rehearse them and follow all those protocols, as well. And, to be honest with you, there’s nothing like the live, communal experience that an audience [brings],” he said, likening the process to watching a theatrical production on television. “To put it online… you’re really talking about TV and film, and then I believe it loses something in the translation. But it doesn’t really help us because we’d have to continue to produce shows anyway. And if we did that, then we might as well do them live.
“We remained hopeful since the beginning of this pandemic, obviously. But it’s come to the point where we’re just basically following advice from health officials and government officials, and it doesn’t look like we will be able to have large gatherings in theatres anytime soon,” he said of the reality of the situation.
This year marks Drayton Entertainment’s 30th anniversary, and Mustakas says the not-for-profit plans on celebrating when they have the opportunity.
It’s also a milestone year for the Elmira Theatre Company, which is celebrating its 40th season. Instead of marking that on stage, the groups has released a series of web videos reflecting on members’ experiences throughout the years.
Mustakas feels the company made the sensible decision of cancelling this year’s productions. “We certainly miss our patrons, we miss the artists and the creative process. But, you know, we also agree that safety and health and safety is of utmost importance, and we just want to make sure that we mitigate losses and keep operating costs low so that we can come back as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“It’s devastating to the theatre industry, for sure. We were the first to close and we’re probably going to be the last [to open]. So, I worry a little bit about the near future and until a vaccine or cure is developed, and people feel safe to go back into a cabinet auditorium and sit beside people. It’s really hard to predict at this point, but it [COVID-19 lockdown] really has hit the arts community, very hard. Not just our operations, but think of all the artists, technicians and designers – how many people involved are out of work? We’re worried about all those elements,” said Mustakas.
The alterations made by community theatre groups have been less drastic. The Guelph Little Theatre (GLT), for instance, has decided to record four individual vignettes for their adaption local author Marion Reidel’s Café Conversations, part of GLT’s 45th season celebrations.
“It’s kind of neat to be able to launch a product online and even the next one too and kind of direct people to our page and say, ‘hey, look at us 45 years upcoming – this is our season, we should be celebrating, right?’ So, lots of good things we can focus on and be positive with,” said GLT’s Lynne McIntee.
GLT is releasing four vignettes from the play, viewable on their YouTube account. For the first time in months, actors will assemble on a small stage to provide the community with content while ensuring COVID transmission prevention measures are being kept.
Elora Community Theatre is also set for an outdoor social distancing style performance for A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters as a fundraiser to support their operations at Bissel Park in Elora during the final weekend of August.
While there are many ways to adapt to the COVID-19 situation, all agree there’s nothing quite like an in-person performance.